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Yankees mailbag: Free agency and opt-outs edition

Get your answers to this week’s mailbag here.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Good morning everyone, get your answers to this week’s mailbag here. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

UseTheOpener asks: Between LeMahieu, Tanaka and Paxton, which of those three do you think is the most likely to come back to the Yankees next year? Least likely?

Assuming that there are no contract extensions or other talks in play throughout the remainder of the year, all three of these players will reach free agency in November regardless of how the season plays out thanks to the initial March agreement between the player’s union and ownership. The Yankees will have to weigh their opinions on all three against whatever the market winds up offering them, which may not be as significant as in normal free agency years due to the pandemic and ownerships across the league looking to cut down on spending in response to it.

The safest bet is that the most likely to return will be one of the two pitchers. The Yankees have a deep reservoir of starting pitching talent near the major leagues, but aside from Gerrit Cole all of their proven MLB-caliber starting pitchers have some sort of injury history. They can’t risk letting both Tanaka and Paxton walk, so one of them almost assuredly would get locked down quick, and I’d argue that Tanaka is the guy they’d go for.

Despite being just as old as Paxton, Tanaka finds himself the elder statesman in this Yankees rotation following CC Sabathia’s retirement. The Japanese star has seen his numbers decline from his earlier years in New York, but one thing that has remained consistent is his postseason excellence. The Yankees should be frontrunners for the foreseeable future in the American League, and having another pitcher who can deliver ace performance in October is a factor that will definitely favor keeping him around.

Paxton is by no means a wrong choice either, and ideally the pair should be kept since it’s unlikely that a bidding war breaks out for their services. LeMahieu, however, is a different story. If he proves that last season’s outburst wasn’t an aberration there will be a large demand for him no matter what, since the market for a hard-hitting middle infielder drops off very quickly. I wouldn’t say he’s more likely to be in another uniform come 2021, but teams will definitely try to pry him away.

Christopher Wenk asks: Giancarlo Stanton has an opt-out in his contract that he could exercise after this season. He is owed $218 million for the remaining seven years after the 2020 season. Everybody agrees that Stanton will never exercise the opt out — there’s no way he would give up the remaining money to become a free agent again. Doesn’t that clearly indicate that Stanton is grossly overpaid under his current contract and that the contract is something that he would never be able to get from any of the 30 MLB teams now?

Short answer: No, and yes.

Long answer: Tyler covered this in a mailbag last month, but the numbers on Stanton’s contract aren’t as bad as so many people make them out to be. While Stanton owns the third-richest contract in baseball history, he’s only 28th in average annual value. That second figure is the more important one to consider, because the luxury tax has become an unofficial salary cap around the league. Spreading out money on a superstar’s contract can matter more than paying incredibly high amounts, depending on the team’s philosophy. The Yankees are clearly a team that cares more about the AAV than the total figure.

Would Stanton get his remaining contract value ($233 million over eight years) on the market now? Most definitely not, but that’s not entirely Stanton’s fault. Yes, he had an injury-riddled 2019 season. A strong 2020 season would have done a lot to relax those concerns, but then the pandemic broke out.

Not only did it limit this year to a 60-game sample size, but as mentioned earlier owners are balking at added payroll now. Simply put, I wouldn’t expect any owner to approve that large of a contract based on what we’ve been hearing about the ways that teams are looking for any amount of savings. It’s a significant blow to free agency as a whole, as a lot of players will be hurt by a depreciated market, and a nail in the coffin to any thought of Stanton joining that 2020 class.